This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," October 30, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
KEVIN DOWNING, MANAFORT LAWYER: President Donald Trump was correct. There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Today's announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity. There are no activities or official capacity which the Trump campaign was engaged in any of these activities. Most of them took place well before the campaign ever even existed.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: The indictments of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates show that the special counsel's probe is progressing in a very serious way. Mueller is moving forward.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team releasing the indictments today, first of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, 12 counts in all -- conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principle, false and misleading foreign agents registration act statements, false statements on seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
The president tweeted earlier today before all of this, "Sorry, but this is years ago," this is when the indictments first came out, "before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus??? Also, there is no collusion!"
The second part of the release today was about George Papadopoulos, who was by all accounts a volunteer on the Trump campaign. But there you see in a national security meeting a couple pictures from the Trump Instagram account. And he pled guilty October 5th to misleading statements to the FBI in this investigation. And I guess those were the eyebrow-raising developments today because we don't know what has done since he was arrested in July.
Let's bring in our panel: Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and Mo Elleithee, executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics.
Mollie, your take?
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: For people who have long reported on Paul Manafort's financial dealings, and that includes everyone from The Weekly Standard to The New York Times, today's news is mostly surprising for it just being one count of money laundering and then the associated violations of paperwork to go along with it.
It does point to a larger bipartisan corruption problem with lobbying, but today's news doesn't have anything to do with the Russia-Trump collusion, which is the thing that Bob Mueller is supposed to be looking into. If he is interested in people not doing a good job with registering their work on behalf of foreign governments and the election meddling, he is going to be curious to look more into Fusion GPS, which is the firm that was hired by the Clintons, by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to run that Russia-Trump dossier operation. And there will be a lot to look into there that will be very interesting.
BAIER: We should point out developing today was that Tony Podesta, the Democratic lobbyist, left his firm that is named for him. And it is believed that he in some capacity is under investigation by the special counsel as well, perhaps along these ties to Manafort and Ukraine. Steve, your thoughts?
STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: This is the first step. We know a lot more than we did a week ago. There is still a lot we don't know. The Manafort and Gates indictments I think if you read all 31 pages, if you had asked us a week ago to predict based on what we had read publicly about Paul Manafort and his business dealings, this is pretty much what we would have set I think. Most of this was in the public record, the indictment added some new details to it, but I don't think we learned a ton.
As it relates to the Trump collusion narrative, Andy McCarthy writing in National Review said that the indictment appears to reaffirm former FBI Director James Comey's multiple assurances that Trump is not a suspect. Again, it's early. There is more to learn. There's a possibility that Papadopoulos was wearing a wire. We know he was cooperative. This is the beginning of a long investigation, not the end. But this is probably a good day for Donald Trump on balance.
BAIER: Here is the White House press secretary and the president's attorney on Papadopoulos.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SANDERS: I would hardly call that some sort of regular advisor or, as you want to push, that he's a senior member of the staff. He was not paid by the campaign. He was a volunteer on, again, a counsel that met once.
JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: I'm not concerned about it because if you look at what, again, George Papadopoulos' plea is, what the actual plea being entered into was, again, a false statement about timing as to when he talked to somebody about Russian activities. It wasn't -- by the way, these weren't activities that were illegal. It wasn't the conversation that they had.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MO ELLEITHEE, GEORGETOWN INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: The Papadopoulos, there is a lot of bad here today for the president. The Papadopoulos I think is the biggest blockbuster because while the plea was specifically for making a false statement, if you read the statement of offense, there is a lot in there that show collusion. It shows that he had regular engagement with Russian agents. It shows he took the engagement to his supervisors at the campaign.
And while we heard the press secretary say that never went anywhere, I don't think that's exactly true. On August 15th, according to the statement of offense, on August 15th a campaign supervisor encouraged him to take a trip to Russia for an off the record conversation about these emails that weren't even public that the Russians had. Quote, "I would encourage you" and another foreign policy advisor to, quote, "make the trip if it is feasible." That's coming from a campaign supervisor.
HEMINGWAY: That trip never took place. And in fact campaign brass turned down meetings that he was trying --
ELLEITHEE: The president --
HEMINGWAY: Collusion doesn't mean do you have a preference for a different policy toward Russia or a willingness to talk to Russians? It means conspiring to steal an election. I think what people are wanting when they've been told this narrative for a year, they want evidence that Trump committed treason, that he did something criminal or wrong to steal an election, not that -- we all know Trump has a different attitude toward Russia than other people.
ELLEITHEE: But that's not what the statement of offense reported. The statement of offense said that Papadopoulos knew that the Russians had tens of thousands of emails that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton. They offered them to Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos suggested to the campaign that they engage with this, and while the campaign said, according to the statement of offense, the candidate is not going to take this meeting. His supervisor encouraged him to go to Russia to take the meeting, not to talk policy but to talk about opposition research that the Russian government had on Hillary Clinton.
HAYES: I think there's an important distinction to be made here. I think what we have seen in the Papadopoulos indictment and what we've seen several other times is a willingness to collude. That's different than collusion. If the case is collusion, I don't think that we have it. I don't think it's in the Papadopoulos indictment and I don't think it's in the public record right now.
HEMINGWAY: And if people care about collusion, then they should be really interested in the hiring of Fusion GPS, which is a Russia linked firm, that was getting sourced from the Kremlin and other Russian operatives to run an information campaign against the opponents. So if they are interested in that, and if they do think that's collusion, well, that is something you should look into. If it's just opposition research, then that's just something both parties are involved in.
HAYES: Back to the beginning of this, one of the questions I had, one of the questions that a lot of people had as this got underway was why did so many people in Trump world, why were they unwilling or incapable of telling the truth about contacts with Russians. That was one of the big questions, and it was a fair question.
BAIER: It is a fair question. And they are in trouble, many of them, at least from what we read in these documents, for false statements.
Now, it's important to point out to Mollie's point, there was not a federal investigation of the Clinton funding of Fusion GPS, hence they were not lying to federal investigators so they don't have charges of lying.
HAYES: They're reportedly looking into Tony Podesta. My point is a narrower one. The question about why so many people in Trump world were incapable or unwilling to tell the truth arose, and the question was, are they hiding collusion? If not, what are they hiding? Just let me finish my point for a second. The point is, could they have simply been hiding attempts to collude, because we now know there were several attempts to collude, whether you're talking about Cambridge Analytics, whether you're talking about Papadopoulos, whether you're talking about Donald Trump Jr., whether you're talking about Paul Manafort and his willingness to brief Putin cronies about these things, it seems that there were attempts to collude, but what we have not yet seen is evidence of actual collusion right now. I don't think that is in the Papadopoulos indictment and I don't think we've seen it yet.
Content and Programming Copyright 2017 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.